Ben Dahwa, CEO, Air Botswana, answers questions about his new role
Q 1. Please can you tell us about your career path and how long you have been in the aviation industry?
A – I have a technical and engineering background, a career which started 30 years ago, with the Airforce of Zimbabwe. Ever since I have travelled the full path of an aviation citizen, which prepared and enabled me to grow into management and leadership positions in various aviation sectors; prior to my landing at Air Botswana, I have held senior aviation positions in Zimbabwe, Namibia and South Africa.
Q 2. You have recently taken over as CEO of the business, what are the most exciting aspects of the job – and the most daunting?
A – Well the most exciting aspect is the opportunity itself, to be able to take into account the challenges and be in a position to work on crafting a course for improvement. The airline already possesses a great level of skilled personnel and infrastructure needed for the provision of high quality services.
Exceeding customer expectation by consistently delivering a quality service and improving our on-time-performance is important for us as an airline and as a business, to remain relevant to customers.
Execution, with speed, is extremely important because now more than ever, with the “open skies policy” we are competing with international airlines; and so in the backdrop of this liberalized aviation environment we need to offer fast decisions and standard and consistent service delivery, on all fronts, for us to stay competitive and deliver a positive contribution to our national GDP.
It is against this backdrop that there are continuous efforts to provide the level of service that our customers have come to expect from us.
Q 3. Air Botswana is a huge company, how many employees are there and how many of them are citizens? What are the opportunities for people in the company?
A – We have a total of 567 staff members who are spread out throughout the airline’s operations in Botswana and South Africa with a majority of them being Batswana. Opportunities for progression exist at all levels within the company where there is a match of skills and experience. The airline also supports further education as well as professional growth.
Q 4. What percentage of your customers are tourists compared with business people? Would you like to see this change?
A – The Government of Botswana; major local and international companies; and non-government organisations operating in Botswana, are the source of most of the airline’s passengers, therefore business travel accounts for the bulk of the airline’s passengers at 80 %, with leisure travellers making up around 20% of the total. We endeavor to continue to grow our business presence in the market and carry more passengers through strategic partnerships, code shares and special proration agreements with bigger international airlines to bring more people to Botswana.
We would like to see an increase in passenger numbers; specifically where we will be able to take advantage such traffic. Since flying is essentially derivative, we hopeful that the availability of world heritage sites and the improvement in the national business landscape will result in increased traffic to Botswana.
Q5. Are there any new routes you are thinking of including in the schedule in the next year?
A – We are currently in a transitional period which has an overall objective of steering the airline towards growth and profitability. The Air Botswana strategy for the next 5 years has recently been completed and is currently undergoing approval. The strategy includes, the following areas which are critical to the airline’s operations;
- Fleet upgrade/Re-fleeting and equipment renewal
- Rationalization of route network and schedule
- Review of internal processes and procedures
- Use of Technology to enhance delivery and simplicity
- Optimal utilisation of human resources
Q 6. Are there any plans for expansion of the fleet or more flights to existing destinations?
A -We have developed a strategic plan for the next 5 years which will inform the next strategic phase for the airline and will address fleet and route expansion needs. Consultation with the shareholder is at an advanced stage for adoption of the strategy. As part of our strategy however, we shall be aiming for growth and expansion into high density African markets, once we are appropriately equipped, with aircraft of the right gauge and suitable range reach. We want to participate more in connecting the continent with our region, this we need to achieve operational critical mass and enhance revenues.
Q 7. How well do you think Air Botswana competes with other companies that are flying the same routes? Are there improvements that you want to make to ensure Air Botswana remains competitive?
A – Currently the market is stagnant with very slow growth year on year so competition for market share is very tough and we are competing aggressively with airlines operating the same routes. We view competition in a positive light as it keeps us on our toes in terms of service delivery. We have experienced some challenges in the past which resulted in our on-time Performance being compromised. We have since commenced with various initiatives which are specifically targeting to repair our on time record resulting in a boost of more than 20% in recent months to consistently achieve above a 90% average.
We are continually working towards improving customer handling as well as providing customized service to give our customers better convenience and comfort. Improvement on fleet and routes will be unveiled through the strategy that is currently awaiting approval.
Q 8. What do you think is your most challenging issue for the future? And the biggest opportunity?
A – On time Performances coupled with communication and information sharing during operational disruptions has been identified as a major challenge and as a major cause of unhappiness with the flying public. It is not just the frequency but also the duration of the delays that has been eroding market confidence; we have since embarked on an aggressive programme to reduce and eradicate both.
A huge opportunity for us has been the relocation of the Diamond Trading Company which has presented a chance for us to capture new world markets as there will be a significant number of diamond dealers travelling in and out of Botswana. We continue to optimize our operations and have recently expanded our cargo facilities and handling space, positioning ourselves well, in anticipation of increased cargo business through SSKIA airport.
Being recently selected as the exclusive airport ground handling service provider puts us in prime position for significant growth due to stimulated travel from the diamond enclave. We have therefore commenced with the procurement of new and more advanced Ground Service Equipment (GSEs) more suitable for this growth in Cargo and Ground Handling activities.
Q 9. Do you think Air Botswana will ever be able to expand to have long haul flights to destinations outside Africa?
A – Alone, in the short-term, we may not be able to single-handedly operate long haul international flights taking into account the capital and human resources requirements. However, we shall continue to grow our business presence in all continental markets; through strategic partnerships, code shares and special proration agreements with bigger international airlines to bring more people to Botswana for us to process and distribute within the region.
Q 10. Do you personally like flying? Where would you most like to visit in the world?
A – Indeed I love flying, it is the only mode of transport where I feel very safe in the confidence of somebody else taking care of my safety whilst being pampered in comfort and getting to my destination quicker. There are so many places I would like to visit in world, it is fun exploring places, I would really like to visit Hawaii.